"In the UK, about 3% of the population are estimated to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)", according to The Guardian.
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which is experienced during particular seasons or times of the year. It is commonly experienced in the winter months when the days are shorter and the sunlight is decreased, but in rare cases, it can also be experienced in the summer months. SAD is known to harm peoples' mood, sleep and appetite which can negatively impact their lives. People with SAD may notice that their relationships and careers suffer as a result of their symptoms.
Anyone can get SAD but it is most often experienced by young women aged between 18-35. Women are estimated to be 4 times more likely to suffer from SAD than men are. If a family has a history of depression, bipolar disorder or SAD, they are also more at risk of suffering from SAD.
What are the main symptoms?
- Feeling lethargic - SAD can leave people feeling sluggish, tired and apathetic leading to an increased desire to sleep.
- Increased appetite & weight gain - These two symptoms go hand in hand. If someone is seeking food for comfort they are likely to put on weight if they are not increasing their exercising. It is said that people with SAD crave carbohydrates & sugars in particular. This can contribute to reduced self-esteem.
- Having a consistent low mood - SAD commonly makes people feel unhappy, irritable and often tearful.
- Feeling antisocial - People with SAD may seek alone time more than usual and lose interest in attending social occasions even with their closest friends & family.
- Poor appetite & weight-loss - Contrary to winter SAD, summer SAD can cause a decrease in appetite which leads to weight-loss.
- Insomnia - People with summer SAD tend to find it difficult to sleep and often find that they are up all night.
What are the causes?
Scientists believe that SAD is often triggered by the increased absence of sunlight in the winter months. This affects the levels of hormones in our brains, particularly melatonin and serotonin. The part of the brain that these hormones affect helps to control our mood, sleep and appetite so when the levels are too high or low, these three things are negatively impacted.
What are the treatments?
- Anti-depressant medication -
It is said that SAD is associated with a dysfunction in brain serotonin activity and as a result, Dr's believe that anti-depressants are an effective treatment for SAD. Fluoxetine, often known as Prozac, is the most popular anti-depressant for treating SAD due to it being a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI).
To be prescribed anti-depressant medication you will need to book an appointment with your Doctor. They will have a chat with you to assess whether they believe anti-depressants would be a suitable form of treatment for you, and if so they will provide advice and a prescription.
- Light therapy -
It is widely known that SAD is usually insinuated by a decrease in sunlight so the obvious thing to do would be to trick the brain by introducing artificial light. Lightboxes which emit full-spectrum light to mimic sunlight are available to buy online. People have experienced the best results by sitting in front of the lightbox first thing in the morning. It is highly recommended that individuals speak to their GP before trying this form of treatment.
The image to the right is showing the Beurer TL Ultra Portable Daylight SAD Light, White which is available to purchase on John Lewis' website for £47.99.
- Vitamin D supplements -
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression, and naturally, in the winter months, we do not get as much vitamin D from natural sunlight which lowers our levels. It is recommended that people who suffer from depressive disorders including SAD take vitamin D supplements to keep their levels up.
Vitamin D supplements are available to buy at most health stores, supermarkets & pharmacies. You can view Holland & Barrett's collection of vitamin D supplements here, prices ranging from £2.99 - £31.99.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) -
CBT offers a great support network for people who are suffering from SAD. A therapist can help a person to understand why they are feeling the way that they are and teach techniques which can help them to overcome SAD. Techniques may include relaxation, mindfulness and journaling.
You can be referred to a CBT therapist by your GP, pay privately for CBT therapy sessions, or you can self-refer yourself to receive free therapy through the NHS website here. There is also a charity called Mind who offer talking therapies to people suffering from mental health illnesses. Watch the video to the right to find out more about what they do.